Judging the WA Good Food Guide Wine Awards was one of the highlights of my recent wine career history. It has been a very long time since I have had assembled for me such a potent distillation of one of the most exciting and diverse wine communities on earth; Western Australian wine producers.
There is such multiplicity between regions, let alone in them, let alone in the winemaking approach and myriad of interpretations there within. Couple to this the epic range of wines and styles that teeters between global fine wine paradigm examples and the emerging sect of experimental avant garde wines, and you’ve got one of the most compelling conversations going in Australian wine.
While the tasting highlighted, once again, the thoroughbred nature of totemic Margaret River cabernet, chardonnay from there and Great Southern, riesling of Frankland River and surrounds, the pursuit of finer expressions of semillon and sauvignon blanc, singularly or blended, perhaps most thrilling of all was the myriad of interpretations of new styles and lesser sung varieties. Alongside this the more assured releases of shiraz, grenache, sparkling wines and judiciously made rosé, fills out the picture of pedigree in WA.
A sect of winemakers, from well-known to emerging, are increasingly turning to the underdog resources of old vine Swan Valley, ambitious plantings of Italian or Spanish grape varieties in Geographe, Southern Forests and ‘informal’ wine growing areas. There has been an imaginative reinventing of existing wine styles through extended white grape skin fermentation, or producing climate and culture appropriate lighter, fresher, brighter wine styles. Diversity has many guises in Western Australia.
Highlights for me came from those seeking to add to the narrative of Western Australia’s superb, narrow focus on single vineyard grenache from Frankland River – this will become a marked conversation, and a potent counterpoint to South Australia’s ‘landmark examples’.
So too, the reconnection with chenin blanc in the Swan Valley, where incredible and potentially long-lived styles from mature vineyards have the opportunity to unsettle those making ‘similar’ from semillon in Hunter Valley. Indeed, the close proximity from Perth to the Swan Valley, and some of the under-used vineyard resources by intrepid winemakers, could just be the next chapter of this historic region.
Overall, to whittle down and arrange the impressive collection submitted for the WA Good Food Guide Wine Awards, into a coherent 25 best wines, was a very difficult and thoroughly performed task. There was (and is!) so much exciting, well-made, interesting and delicious wine from Western Australia.